Making history as the first and only openly LGBTQ+ member of the York County Commission means Pride Month is personal. I find it incredibly important to ensure that representation doesn’t go to waste. I’ve always believed that when you have diverse voices at the table, policy decisions and outcomes are directly impacted through the demonstration of varying lived experiences.
The York County Commission voted to declare June 2023 Pride Month. It’s the first time in our long history of county existence since 1636 that we passed a pride proclamation. Following similar action by the White House, State of Maine, and various municipalities, it was high time for the county to play a role. I introduced this measure because every level of government has a responsibility to do all we can to protect our constituents, no matter who they are or who they love.
It’s striking to me that it took until the year 2023 to pass such a simple recognition of the LGBTQ+ community. Sadly though, the proclamation passed without unanimous approval. This simple proclamation was not a sure thing. It passed 3 to 2, with Commissioners Dutremble and Clark joining me in support, while Commissioners Andrews and Ring voted against the measure.
Some of my fellow commissioners commented in opposition that this was too political and that it was granting special treatment to a specific group of people.
As I told them, my existence as a human being is not political and I’ve never sought special treatment simply for who I love. There should be equal opportunity to live a happy, healthy, and successful life for all. But there should be no question about the need to recognize when groups of people, in this case members of the LGBTQ+ community, are unduly threatened.
Details of the proclamation include using Pride Month to ‘engage in dialogue to strengthen alliances, build acceptance, and advance equal rights. What’s wrong with that?
We are truly at an inflection point. Organizations like the Human Rights Campaign have declared a National State of Emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans citing an unprecedented and dangerous spike in anti-LGBTQ+ legislative assaults sweeping state houses this year. Just about every day we see in the news, personal and legislative attacks against members of my community happening with more and more frequency. It feels like we are moving backwards on equality. It’s critical that those of us who are on the side of human decency and freedom from discrimination are heard over the voices of hate that are currently being amplified. They are not representative of the majority of Americans who believe in personal liberty and freedoms for all people, including those who might identify with a different sexuality or gender.
Extremists are trying to conflate sexual orientation and gender identity with targeting or harming children. There is a contrived political narrative populating our country’s vernacular that harkens back to a much darker time in our history.
Stoking moral panic on the backs of our collective and longstanding fight for equal rights in America is appalling. It’s a cop-out. The current right-wing rhetoric that has focused on accusations of ‘grooming’ demonstrates how desperate they are. It represents the lowest of low and frankly makes my blood boil.
We cannot let the voices that are seeking to demonize and dehumanize win. This is part of a deliberate political playbook to divide. When we are divided, elections are won or lost by creating a narrative of fear. Fear of loss. Fear of differences. Fear of change. Fear of others. Usually, at the expense of an entire group of people. This time the scapegoat happens to members of the LGBTQ+ community, but make no mistake, this is a copy and paste situation that spreads like wildfire. No group is immune.
This Pride Proclamation demonstrates York County’s commitment to treating everyone with respect and our commitment to standing with the LGBTQ+ community.
The takeaway? Be kind to one another. Treat one another the way you would want to be treated. Respect our neighbors. Tolerate and accept our differences. Recognize the shared humanity of our lives. It really should be that simple.
Justin Chenette is county commissioner for Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, and Buxton and serves as vice chair of the commission. He also serves on the executive committee of the Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission, Maine Right to Know Advisory Committee, Age Friendly Saco board, and provides college scholarships through his foundation. Get county updates at CommissionerChenette.com.